Book Anniversary and 1000 Sales!

November 30th, 2015 by Potato

The anniversary of the release of The Value of Simple is tomorrow, and I’m excited to say that it has just rolled past 1000 sales!

I honestly didn’t think it would hit that point and hadn’t written anything ahead of time, so in brief: hurray! I can’t believe it’s come this far, especially given how much I suck at marketing. I love seeing all those positive reviews and people referring it to their friends, and that even after a few months it’s still fully checked out at the various library systems that have it across the country, with a backlog of holds in Toronto and Vancouver!

In the meantime, I’ve been working on something that I knew would take forever and is taking even longer — I thought maybe if I pulled a few all-nighters I could get it out for the close of Financial Literacy Month (today), and now I see it’s going so slow I may have to re-think the whole idea.

Speaking of Financial Literacy Month: hey, if you’ve just learned how to budget and save your money, why not check out The Value of Simple, a really easy-to-use guide that will help you take the next step to investing that money you’re now saving?

And speaking of holidays, it also makes a great gift. So many people out there could use a little more financial literacy and investing how-to, but may not even know to look for it themselves. And it’s slightly more exciting than socks (there’s a bunny in it!). If you’re just looking to pick up a copy for a gift then there are lots of ways to do that. Both Amazon and Indigo have been discounting it online (if you buy enough other things to qualify for free shipping, it’s actually cheaper for you than buying from me directly), so that may be the way to go as long as those price cuts hold. If you want a signed copy though you’ll have to order directly from me. The last day to order and expect Canada Post regular delivery* in time for xmas is December 16 (December 17 for Ontario addresses) — the retailers will have their own shipping cut-off deadlines.

* – XPressPost cut-off would be Dec 21, but that will cost $17 extra — more than the book itself!

Exciting Book and Podcast Updates

November 5th, 2015 by Potato

First off, I had two recent podcast appearances:

Over at Because Money, we talked about who should be a do-it-yourself investor, related to this post. Interestingly, after we recorded this we got to hear more about the importance of behaviour at the Canadian Personal Finance Conference, where the final talk by Dan Bortolotti indicated that because of self-defeating behaviour he doesn’t think many investors should be do-it-yourselfers. I tried to emphasize behaviour and processes in the book to make sure that people didn’t fall into those traps, and I plan to focus my efforts for the rest of the year on solving that problem so that more DIYers will be successful.

Then, I was on the Mo’ Money Podcast, talking about the book and my history with money.

If this is your first time finding out about the book, or if you have someone you think should pick up a copy to learn about investing, then be sure to head on over to Amazon — it’s on sale at the moment for an incredible price. I’m not sure if it’s a financial literacy month thing (aka “November”), or if it’s a flash sale that will be over tomorrow.

I also want to excitedly say that my October sales numbers are in and the Value of Simple now sits at 956 sales. It’s totally feasible to get 44 sales in November (the financial literacy-est month of the year!) to manage to roll over 1000 the sales mark by the 1-year anniversary of the book’s release in December! Totally feasible with your help that is. Remember that most people you know and love likely don’t know anything about investing or a lot of other financial topics — Kyle called it the “Canadian emperor has no clothes” phenomenon in the podcast, where everyone assumes everyone else has this all figured out and doesn’t want to talk about it. So be sure to whisper it in their ear, or send them a link to buy the book (or at least check out the reading guide), or just buy a copy for them now for Christmas to help me reach my completely arbitrary goal!

Finally, if you’re interested in a bulk order (for instance if you want to get your clients or employees something awesome and educational for the holidays), the printer has reminded me of the various ordering cut-offs for shipping in time for Christmas, as well as an extra discount for orders (over 10) placed before Nov 22. Contact me for details about bulk orders.

Non-Registered Investment Tracking Spreadsheet

September 8th, 2015 by Potato

In a non-registered account you will at some point have to pay tax on any capital gains, and you have to report that amount yourself. You’ll need some method to properly* track your cost base so that when you sell you know how much of a gain (or loss) to claim on your taxes. [TL;DR — click here to download the spreadsheet]

I often get asked whether tracking ACB yourself is really necessary. Brokerages and mutual fund dealers will track your book value for you, and most of the time they’re accurate. So you could save yourself a fair bit of effort by just relying on their calculation for tax purposes, especially if all of your accounts are in one place. However, if you have holdings of the same ETF/stock/fund at different brokers (e.g., if I had an account at TD Waterhouse holding VDU and one at Questrade holding VDU) then they wouldn’t talk to each other and there would be no option other than to track it myself. They also don’t seem to catch superficial losses. The bigger issue though is that the brokers sometimes make mistakes in the book value calculations, and it is ultimately your responsibility to report correctly to the CRA.

So the only proper advice I can give is to carefully track it yourself to double-check your broker/mutual fund dealer because the onus on being correct will fall on your shoulders. But that said, I do personally know a few people who do not track it themselves and who come out fine (either because the broker/dealer gives them correct information, or because even when there are errors they don’t get audited) — in the real world it’s very tempting (and understandable) to take the free tracking offered. With mutual funds there’s one less step for information to go wrong (at least if you’re buying funds from the issuing company, like TD e-series at TD), so it’s even more likely to be correct, but you’ll never know if you’re the one unlucky customer with a bad book value calculation until you get audited. And of course, the errors they’re making could be costing you money. If you do let the company track for you, at least be sure to hold on to the statements you’ll need to re-do the calculation if it comes to it.

Tracking it is not all that hard a mathematical exercise, the tricky part comes in being careful to put everything on the right side of the ledger and to follow-through each year. There can be a lot of transactions to put in there, including annoying “phantom” distributions that change your cost base but didn’t actually show up in your brokerage statement. There are a number of tools out there to try to help you with your ACB, including a web-based calculator and spreadsheets from several sources, like this classic (if sparse) one from the old Canadian Capitalist blog.

I myself use a very barebones spreadsheet similar to CC’s, but it’s not a great model for others to use because it depends on me knowing what it is I’m doing with the ACB calculation to create each new row as needed.

So I’ve created a new template that I hope is better suited to the target audience for the Value of Simple (click here to get the sheet). This sheet assumes that you’ll have a fairly typical experience of buying/DRIPing many shares/units over time, and only occasionally selling. So rather than save space and intersperse all the transactions as they happen, it’s set up to go with your workflow. I assume that you’ll go through various modes. First you’re buying and holding, then it summarizes your ACB for a sale with all the adjustments from RoC and reinvested capital gain distributions, then you make a sale (or series of sales), and then get back into buying mode. Then each of your funds gets its own tab.

As with many ACB trackers, the superficial loss rule can throw you for a loop. It’s hard to catch everything that can trigger a superficial loss, so there is no automatic check for it so you won’t have a false sense of security — you’ll have to catch those situations yourself (though there is a sample of that case so you can see how to adjust your cost base for when it does happen).

* – I often stress the importance of tracking this yourself. That’s because it’s so tempting to not track it properly and independently and rely on the “book value” or “cost” listed on your brokerage statement. Most of the time this will be correct and you could have saved some record-keeping effort. However, sometimes it won’t be, and then you’ll be mis-reporting to the CRA. It’s analogous to tracking your TFSA contributions yourself: the CRA online tool or phone reps may be able to accurately tell you how much room you have left, but in the rare case where that’s wrong the penalties will still fall in your lap. So I’ll try my best to tell you how to track and report properly, and make it as easy as possible; if you choose not to and get audited, at least you’ll know what you did wrong!

Gearing up for Word on the Street

September 7th, 2015 by Potato

Word on the Street is just three weeks away, and I’m excited to have a booth there this year, where I’ll be hawking the Value of Simple (the booth will be called Simple Investing).

It’s tough to estimate how many copies I’ll need on hand, so I just figured that if I sold a copy every five minutes I’d be doing pretty well, did the math, and will arrive with just under 100 copies. Running out would be a good problem to have, so I’m hoping that it turns out to be a conservative estimate — but if I’ve over-estimated, expect a sweet sale for xmas orders this year.

I’m gearing up for it in other ways too. While I’ve long been with PayPal to accept credit cards for orders through my direct site (and to invoice for credit cards for side business stuff), for this kind of event I wanted to get a mobile card reader to take payments on-site. I was briefly excited to see that PayPal had one called PayPal Here — and it even supported Windows tablets! — but then saw that they don’t like Canadians and I had to go find someone else until some indeterminate future date when the rollout came north of the border. Intuit has an option for Canadians, but only works on iOS devices. That leaves Square1, which I had actually heard of and knew as the little start-up that kicked off the use-your-mobile-phone-to-take-credit-cards business. Though they don’t support Windows tablets or Blackberries (the devices I will have on-hand at WotS), they did support Android, and Wayfare is currently shopping for a new cell phone and will likely go Android.

I have to say I was impressed with the whole process — easy to sign up, and the hardware is tiny and light and arrived in just a week. Thanks to this thread at CrackBerry I was able to get the app working on my BlackBerry (which does run many Android apps — getting them on is usually the tricky part), and have charged myself a $1 sample transaction just to see how it worked. Other than having to sign with my finger (no pen or stylus I have seems to work on the BB’s screen), it was incredibly smooth and easy. As an aside, given that new BBs run Android apps, I’m surprised companies with apps like this don’t bother to port their apps over so us dinosaur BB users can download them without workarounds. I know we’re a small and dying breed, but it’s not nothing.

Other than that I’m trying to come up with all the material I will want at the booth to give away and help with promotions. I’ll be bringing along some hardcopies of the reading guide, which makes me wish I had designed it for standard print sizes instead of for screen display. Bookmarks tend to be a standard thing, but I’m not sure what to put on mine that would make it useful or stand out against a sea of hundreds of other bookmarks (maybe one of the comparison tables? “Don’t Panic”?).

Wayfare had a great idea to take advantage of the family-oriented nature of WotS: have stickers for the kids and RESP info cards for the parents, so I’m working on the design for that, with not much time left to send it to a printer and get it back before the big day!

Readers, anything else you think I should include? Or is this getting to be too many little bits of cardstock at the table?

1. This is an affiliate link, but that didn’t affect my review of Square. If you use this link to sign up they’ll waive my credit card processing fees, but if you do so after WotS it’s likely that will be of no benefit to me anyway.

Directory of Fee-Only Planners and Coaches

August 17th, 2015 by Potato

I’ve talked about fee-for-service planners before, and how I think it’s how the financial advice industry should evolve — it’s a model that removes many conflicts of interest from the relationship, and maximizes transparency. I’ve even said that as a heuristic for finding an advisor it’s not a bad one, especially as at this point only a few have opted to go down that road.

So it was great when MoneySense created a directory of fee-only planners. ‎I linked to it a lot, it’s included in the book as a valuable resource, and lots of other people liked having it available, too.

They’ve now scrapped the list and are starting something new where they will not just provide a list of planners and what some might see as implicit approval, but also give them ‎an explicit seal of approval. The new process involves a hefty application fee, which will help pay for the magazine to do a survey of past clients, but will mean many fee-only planners will not choose to pay for inclusion so the list will be less inclusive. $2500 is a big fee for a directory listing, so the MS version of the directory is likely to become substantially smaller, and likely skewed towards the most expensive advisors.

I think there’s a lot of value in a free and open directory of fee-only planners.

So I’m going to create my own directory of fee-for-service planners. This will be a more buyer-beware type of directory. It will have no seal of approval, and use free tools and a minimum of volunteer effort (so forgive the barebones look). The only requirement for an advisor to get listed is to fill in the intake survey and have the appropriate business model (i.e. primarily fee-for-service). Those caveats out of the way, I think it will also be hugely useful to the community and capture a lot more planners and coaches than a closed directory with a high entry fee.

The directory is a simple Google Docs spreadsheet and there is also a sidebar link for the directory that more plainly introduces it than this post — please link to that version of the post and directory.

The intake form for advisors/planners/coaches to use is here.

Caveats: the important caveat is that this is meant to be an open listing and these are not recommendations. I don’t have the resources to vet any of these listings. I’ve mentioned a few more on the permalink.

Through the rest of this week I will start contacting the advisors that I know of to start filling out the form and adding themselves, so expect the directory to be a bit barren for the first little bit.

Thanks, and I hope you all find it helpful!